It seems that 1054 wasn't such a big deal: forty years later Pope Urban and Emperor Alexios were on such good terms that a crusade was initiated to save Constantinople and the Holy Lands; even in 1136 Pope Innocent II called upon Emperors Comnenus and Lothair to unite against Roger of Sicily.

This doesn't seem much of a schism. Only after the Massacre of the Latins and even more so the sack of Constantinople that the two sides broke terms completely and irreversible bitterness entered the social psyche.

The Pope and Patriarch were already disagreeing on points of religion from Carolingian times, and 1054 was simply the latest mutual excommunication before the fourth crusade.

Is this a correct assessment?

  • Best I recollect you have a relatively correct assessment: those outside of church elites were blissfully unaware that any schism had occurred in 1054. For all practical intents the latter was the culmination of a spraying contest between archbishops. Sep 2, 2017 at 17:53
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    @DenisdeBernardy I think the split was known much more widely than that. In 1053, Greek churches in southern Italy had been ordered to either close or conform to Latin practices. All Latin churches in Constantinople were closed in retaliation. That kind of thing gets noticed. Sep 2, 2017 at 18:09
  • In church circles, yes, but best I'm aware the rank and file church goers weren't so savvy about the topic. Also, if memory serves there was a tension back then among the church elites as to which archbishop was church boss, which I think your (otherwise great) answer merely hints at. Sep 2, 2017 at 18:11
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    Was the Great Schism already known by that name when the later schisms happened? It's hard to repurpose names that are already in common usage. For example, the First World War was known as "The Great War" in the UK, until the Second World War came along. WWII was "greater" but people didn't say, "OK, now Great War means the 1939-45 war and we'll start calling the 1914-18 war something else." Sep 3, 2017 at 14:35
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    @David Richerby You nailed the fundamental question. Who called it the Great Schism? It seems that at the time, it was just another minor event. Only by hindsight was it known that it was to be the last formal contact between the two churches. Sep 4, 2017 at 11:41

3 Answers 3


Yes, your assessment is broadly correct but, to be fair, the Great Schism of 1054 was a very real break between the Greek eastern and Latin western churches. The split was not only along doctrinal and theological lines, but also along linguistic, political, and geographical lines. This fundamental breach has never been healed

However, this did not mean that the two sides did not have any shared interests, or that they couldn't work together against common enemies. As you say, examples of this are relatively easy to find. You mention a couple of instances of this medieval realpolitik in the question: the early Crusades to "rescue" the Holy Lands and the united actions by Emperors Comnenus and Lothair against Roger II of Sicily.

Now, you are absolutely right that the Massacre of the Latins in Constantinople in 1182, and the Sack of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade in 1204 effectively permanently sealed the breach and made reconciliation between the two sides virtually impossible. However, that doesn't change the fact that the fundamental breach had occurred in 1054.

  • I've seen arguments that the Great Schism is actually much older (details elude me). 1054 is just the year where it was, pretty much, cemented.
    – Clearer
    Sep 3, 2017 at 8:20
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    @Clearer The formal closure of Greek churches in the west and of Latin churches in the east from 1054 meant there was no longer any overlap between the two groups. Hence the "schism". Sep 3, 2017 at 10:03
  • The fact that Greeks and Latins agreed on having only one Bishop of Jerusalem (whom both recognized) while they held the city strongly argues for 1187 as a terminus post quem for the schism.
    – C Monsour
    Apr 17, 2021 at 15:01

The Great Schism of 1054 was an "official" announcement of something that had been going on for centuries: that the Latin and Orthodox churches had been "growing apart" in doctrine, language, practices, etc. driven in large part by local politics. What happened in that year was the Rome forbade churches in Italy from following certain "eastern" practices, and Constantinople likewise forbade churches in Asia Minor from following "Latin" practices. The result was a religious "divorce" because the two parties could no longer "cohabit."

That was a "big deal," theologically even if it didn't seem like it from a political perspective forty years later, when the two sides "got together" to fight the common Saracen enemy and start the crusades. That would have been like a couple seeking an "amicable" divorce and agreeing to work together to sell their house to maximize value for both parties.

The later, bloodier events in 1182 and 1204 made the "divorce" turn ugly, and more like a "contested," rather than an amicable divorce, and also removed all hope of reconciliation. But that doesn't change the fact that the "divorce proceedings," read "schism," began in 1054.


The Great Schism of 1054 was a very big deal, particularly with regard to major disagreements in Church Doctrine and institutional power.

The main disagreement which led to a "Schism" between the Roman rite and Eastern rite Churches, was the concept of the Trinity. If my memory is correct, the Roman Catholic Church's position was (and is), that the Holy Spirit emanated from "the Father and Son", whereas in the Eastern Church, the Holy Spirit emanated from only "the Father". (One may want to check Wikipedia for further specification. Thomas Aquinas wrote on the Trinity in his "Summa Theologica", though I don't know if he provided any detailed discussion on The Great Schism of 1054 and the Eastern rite Church).

There were many other differences which distinguished and continue to distinguish the Roman rite and Eastern rite Churches which culminated with The Great Schism. The range of theological and institutional differences included (and still include):

  1. The appropriate way of crossing one's self.

  2. The displaying of statues and three dimensional artworks in the Roman Church versus the displaying of icons (and forbidding the display of statues and three dimensional artworks) in the Eastern Church.

  3. The use of the Latin language in the Roman rite Church versus the use of Greek language in the Eastern rite Church-(as well as allowing other Eastern rite Churches to use their own language during Church services, also known as the autocephalic system).

  4. The different interpretations of "Apostolic succession", (as well as the veneration of certain Saints).

In the Roman rite Church, Saint Peter was and is still viewed, as the true heir to Jesus Christ, whereas in the Eastern rite Church, Saint Andrew was and is still viewed, as the true heir to Jesus Christ-(incidentally, both Saints Andrew and Peter were brothers). Peter, was "martyred" in Rome, whereas his brother Andrew, was "martyred" in Greece. Apparently, the geographical location of these two "martyred" Saints reinforced-(and still reinforces), the primacy of each of these Churches' self-identifying lines of "Apostolic succession".

While there were up and down relations between Papal Rome and Constantinople since The Great Schism, as well as the growing Venetian and Genoese presence within many parts of Greece during the late Middle Ages and a Greek expat community, largely from Constantinople, who resettled in Venice and the Veneto during Ottoman imperial expansion towards the West, the Theological differences between the Roman Christian West and the Greek Christian East were (and are still), quite significant; and much of that is directly attributable to the Great Schism of 1054.

  • It should also be added that according to the Eastern rite Church, when Jesus began his missionary work in the Galilee, the Apostle Andrew, was the first of the "fishers of men", to be called upon, which is generally interpreted by the Eastern rite Church as the appropriate line of "Apostolic succession".
    – user49540
    Apr 17, 2021 at 4:41
  • Some mention of the importance (or lack) of 1182 and 1204 would improve your answer, as would some sources. Apr 17, 2021 at 5:28
  • While it is certainly true that the 1182 Massacre of the Latins and the Crusader sacking of Constantinople in 1204 caused a major divide between Western and Eastern Christendom, the 1054 Schism, has been a theological divide that exists into the present-day. The Roman and Eastern Churches still remain "divorced" or separated from each other. And despite some attempts towards Ecumenism since The Second Vatican Council in 1965, the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches continue to remain theologically distinct sectarian institutions.
    – user49540
    Apr 17, 2021 at 6:37

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